Israeli Company MyHeritage To Set Up Corona Test-Lab in Israel, Boosting Country’s Screening Abilities

By Benjamin Brown/TPS • 29 March 2020
Photo by Kobi Richter/TPS

Israeli online genealogy platform MyHeritage has teamed up with the Chinese genetics research center and genome sequencing company BGI to utilize its technology in establishing a laboratory to test Israelis for the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19), boosting the country’s daily screening abilities by another 10,000 tests.

“We had already been in discussions with BGI this past year and were really impressed by their quality and dedication to their work,” Yaniv Erlich, MyHeritage’s Chief Science Officer, told TPS.

“We contacted them some weeks ago to see if we could cooperate on Corona – they had just set up a [Covid-19 testing] lab in Wuhan in five days,” Erlich added, explaining that MyHeritage had then informed the Israeli Ministry of Health of its plans for BGI to supply the infrastructure and MyHeritage to run the project in Israel.

The additional Covid-19 test lab comes at a crucial time for Israel, with over 3,800 confirmed Corona cases and 14 deaths. And yet, MyHeritage is running the laboratory as a not-for-profit endeavor, donating all profit to local hospitals.

“We wanted this partnership to be unique,” Erlich stated, telling TPS that not only is the project non-profit but also viewed by the Israeli company as part of a bigger struggle to help the country overcome the economic difficulties the Corona outbreak has brought: “This is us doing our part to save the Israeli economy. By testing many people we can relieve the pressure on the economy by giving people certainty on their medical situation and enabling them to go back to work.”

With BGI building the laboratory and supplying the equipment, as well as sending 25 experts from China – all negatively tested for Covid-19 – to train their Israeli counterparts in using the equipment, MyHeritage is now in the process of hiring employees to man the laboratory.

“We want a 24/7 lab so we’re hiring very many people. Our job search online went viral, we have received hundreds of excellent CVs,” Erlich said.

Set to go into operation on April 9th and reach full capacity two days later, the laboratory is being set up to run 10,000 tests a day. “We might have to scale up to 20,000, though, but we’re very agile,” the MyHeritage’s Chief scientist said, adding that the company is “in this for the long-run. We can continue for however long this takes.”

With the Israeli Ministry of Health assisting the efforts by helping the companies meet the necessary regulations and supplying permits for the Chinese staff to enter the country without having to enter a 14-day quarantine, the stage seems set for the Israeli-Chinese cooperation to battle the novel Coronavirus.

MyHeritage, an  Israeli genetic testing company, is known for its world’s largest genealogy platform that includes the bios of 3.2 billion people, with a database of more than 4.3 million genetic matches based on DNA samples, and with 100 million registered users.